Report addresses issues faced by academic professionals
A new online community with resources and information specifically for academic professionals at Urbana is being considered as one component of a comprehensive plan for fostering personal and professional development of APs. The Web site was one of the recommendations in a recently released report about issues affecting APs at the Urbana campus.
The academic professional employee group has more than 4,300 full-time equivalent employees and is the second largest permanent employee group on campus. (Civil service is the largest.)
Provost Linda Katehi appointed a 16-member Academic Professional Task Force last June, and she and Elyne Cole, associate provost for human resources, charged it with examining issues of salary levels, title usage, promotional opportunities, policies for part-time workers and performance evaluations. In the charge letter, Katehi wrote: “It is clear that academic professional employees are extremely important to the overall health and success of this institution, and they will play a key role in helping the institution achieve its strategic goals during the next five years. It is of the utmost importance to me that this campus has equitable, clear and consistent policies and practices for academic professional employees.”
Over the past 30 years, several committees have examined various issues and concerns relevant to APs, but all were faculty-led, said Ginger Winckler, assistant dean in the College of Veterinary Medicine and chair of the task force. “This was the first all-AP committee that reviewed its own group, attesting to the provost’s commitment to the AP community. Much of the work to improve our employee group rests within ourselves.”
The task force, composed of APs from across campus, reviewed current policies and practices pertaining to APs as well as eight previous committee/task force reports, studied comparable employee groups at five peer institutions and consulted with key staff members and units on campus, including Academic Human Resources, Training for Business Professionals and the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations.
APs also were asked for their opinions about various aspects of their positions, such as promotional pathways and satisfaction with campus services through an online survey that was sent to 4,183 APs in October; 43 percent of the recipients responded.
APs, the survey revealed, care about their careers and 88 percent of respondents said they want opportunities for professional development and to contribute to the university, Winckler said.
Less than half, 41.8 percent, of the respondents reported having been promoted during their careers at Illinois, and more than 65 percent reported they perceived limited promotional opportunities in their units. Three-quarters of respondents also indicated that they perceived no clearly defined career pathway for someone of their education and skills in their unit or at Illinois.
Respondents’ perception of a lack of advancement opportunities may reflect a general lack of understanding of applicable programs, processes and policies and of the wide diversity of positions and responsibility levels that exists within the AP employee group, Winckler said. Of the APs who responded to the survey, 60 percent had less than eight years’ tenure at Illinois, a factor that also could correlate with a lack of awareness.
However, the task force also found that position titles are used inconsistently across campus and may not be representative of responsibility levels. Accordingly, similar position titles in different units also may have wide variations in responsibility and salary.
In studying employment practices and policies at the five selected peer institutions – Cornell, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and the University of California at Berkeley – the task force found that those institutions have more extensive development programs for employee groups similar to APs, but also may have “restrictive frameworks that limit career movement and require salaries to remain in prescribed ranges, regardless of the talent and market demand of the individuals,” the report said.
The task force offered 20 recommendations, some of which were made by previous groups that studied APs. The recommendations provide a framework of actions, policies and programs to be implemented across the university that would foster professional growth for APs, and involve them directly with the strategic plan, with cross-campus interest groups, with volunteerism and with each other.
“Integration of APs into the university community is an important concept that may become even more important in the future: a culture that encourages and expects APs to contribute to the university community, not just their position or department, to cross-pollinate ideas from diverse groups and participate in campus committees in their areas of expertise,” Winckler said. “As the university strives to meet its strategic plan, the challenge is to develop a cohesive framework of guiding principles and programs that are consistent, empowering, and strengthen excellence in academic professionals.”
The Academic Professional Task Force recommended the development of an online community for APs, a mock-up of which is available at www.cvm.uiuc.edu/work/ap_web/, to provide a centralized location for information about career resources and self improvement tools; policies, practices and job opportunities; and volunteerism and social networking opportunities.
In addition to the Web site, the task force recommended designing and communicating compensation philosophies, gathering input from APs about the strategic plan and tying performance reviews to the university’s and the campus units’ strategic objectives, addressing issues pertinent to part-time APs such as notices of nonreappointment, and creating an AP-led campuswide mentoring program, a rotation program and internship programs for internal candidates.
“The recommendations are reasonable things for employees to want and expect,” Cole said. “A steering committee has been appointed to review the recommendations in the report and identify priorities and establish timelines for implementing them.” A chair for the steering committee has yet to be named.
The full report of the AP task force is posted online.
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